|A memorable Christmas, Roman's first, in Assisi, Italy|
We're going away for Christmas so it didn't feel right to leave a live tree alone for the holidays. I figured I could pack some treats into the car easier than a whole tree. So I made some pignoli cookies, a holiday cookie from Italy. Pine nuts. Yes, they come from pine trees and you actually get a hint of that wonderful pine scent when you bite into them.
I lived in Rome for two years and never ate pignoli cookies. I was too busy devouring ricotta tarts from my favorite neighborhood pastry shop to make time for with these sweet almondy-gems. They seem more popular in Italian-American homes and pastry shops. That's probably where I first fell in love with them, years ago at Fortunato Brothers in Brooklyn. But really, what cookie isn't better homemade?
The week before Christmas is notoriously hectic. Last minute gifts to buy, cards to send, packing to do. I try to avoid the chaos and carve out some time to bake. Here is a recipe that involves very little time and effort, and results in a cookie packed full of flavor, so it's a win-win. That is, if you're not afraid to let things get a little sticky this close to Christmas.
From the Love'N Bake can
Makes two dozen
The addition of orange zest really brightens up these sweet, nutty cookies. I love the way the almond and pine nut flavors mingle. Great with a strong espresso or a cup of rooibos tea.
10 oz can of Almond Paste (ingredients: almonds, sugar, water, natural flavor)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of one orange
3 egg whites *see note below
1 cup pignoli nuts
Preheat the oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix the almond paste, sugar, salt, orange zest with the egg whites using an electric mixer on low speed. (*Note: it's best to use large eggs, not extra large, and to add the egg whites one at a time. Do not let the mixture get too runny- it should be more like a paste.) This will create a smooth paste.
Scoop out a heaping teaspoon full with your fingers, coat one side evenly with pignoli, then drop onto the baking sheet. (This is the sticky part. Work quickly and try to minimize how many fingers you use to touch the batter.)
Bake at least 10-12 minutes (Mine took about 14 minutes, but depending on your oven, watch to make sure you don't over bake.)
Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet, then carefully peel them off the parchment paper. Store in a covered container.